In the age of sequels, spin-offs and re-releases we find ourselves in true endings to games are becoming increasingly rare. AAA titles will always have an eye towards a sequel or another instalment, often at the cost of a succinct narrative that ends satisfactorily. Story-first games have gone some way to alleviate this problem, focusing on narrative elements rather than gameplay, however they are still mostly in the minority. More interestingly though are the games which don’t have the Hollywood ending that many have come to expect and are incorrectly labelled as ending poorly. It’s these kinds of games which challenge our preconceived ideas about what it means for something to end well versus it ending nicely.
To illustrate my point I want to show you two examples of games where the ending wasn’t Hollywoodized but one was well executed whilst the other was not (and there will be MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS for both). The first being probably one of the most lamented endings in recent gaming history: Mass Effect 3. The second being one of the more sleeper hits of its time, well known as being a standout IP among story-first gamers: Red Dead Redemption. Both of these games share a commonality in that their ending was tragic, leaving you feel like you were done a great injustice by the eventual outcome, however the former did so in a way that was incongruent to the rest of the story whilst the latter was the bitter conclusion that was built up over the entire game.
Mass Effect’s story, and the effect you could have on it, was the selling point that attracted many gamers to the franchise. You could sculpt Shepard, both literally and figuratively, into the character that you wanted them to be. Decisions you made echoed throughout the whole storyline and you had to bear the weight of their outcomes whether they were what you intended or not. The ultimate (and original, I won’t talk about the DLC’s efforts to remedy the issues) ending however threw all of this away, that burden you carried through the entire game cast aside in favour of an endotron 3000 deus ex machina that asked you to choose one of three possible outcomes. Fans of the series weren’t upset at the fact that the Mass Effect trilogy was coming to an end, we all knew what we were in for from the start, we were upset that so much of what we built up meant nothing in the end.
Shepard was also not built up to be a tragic hero. Sure there are many tough decisions you had to make along the way, many of which resulted in dire consequences, however central to this was the fact that Shepard was able to overcome them all. His untimely end (or weirdly lack thereof for one ending which made little sense) was completely out of line with the character that had been built up to that point. There was every chance to start moulding Shepard for such a fate from the first title, heck even the final instalment had ample opportunity to do so, but the Starchild ending fell flat because it was a round hole solution to the square peg of Shepard.
John Marston, on the other hand, is a tragic hero character who’s incredibly sad story was built up from the opening scene. From the very beginning you know that Marston has a past that he’s trying to escape from but it’s catching up to him faster than he can run. There are moments where you think everything is going to work out, small glimmers of hope that this next thing will set him free, but they all come back around eventually. The entire story is one of struggle against himself, his past and the future he’s trying to build for his family and the sacrifices he needs to make in order for this to happen.
The ultimate ending, one which I replayed several times over in the hopes that there was some way I could overcome the odds, is the end the ultimate conclusion that had been built up over the course of the entire game. It’s not the ending I wanted (as the anger I felt at the end will attest) but it was the ending the story needed. Should they have strayed away from it, instead allowing Marston to live on with his past no longer bearing over him, that would be completely ruin him as a character. I might not have felt great after it happened but it was one of those endings that stuck with me long after the console was off and made me question how I felt about the whole story and not just its conclusion.
As you’ve likely picked up on the crux of what makes an ending good or bad, regardless of what emotional state it leaves you in, is whether or not the story has been built up to service its conclusion. This isn’t something that’s unique to video games either but its something that’s been given new light with the medium. As the medium matures we will increasingly see titles that buck the Hollywood happy ending trend and we’ll have to continually ask ourselves what it means for a game to end well. One thing will remain certain though; the conclusion to a story must be supported by all that preceded it.
It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of DLC. Whilst there are many games that I enjoy going back to it’s not usually because there’s a sliver more of content available for them, it’s because the games themselves warranted it. The trend now however is to continue to release bite sized chunks of additional game play after it’s been released rather than the more traditional model of expansion packs which delivered what amounted to a game in its own right. Still there have been some notable exceptions like the recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution Missing Link DLC which I’ve heard is quite lengthy and well worth the play through (I’ve still yet to play it, though). What irks me, and most gamers, is when a company releases DLC on the same day that they release the full game and an upcoming release has brought this issue to the table once again.
My first encounter with day one DLC wasn’t that long ago, it was with Dragon Age: Origins. I was a fair way through the game, not completely understanding the camp mechanic, when I saw a new character appear. Starting the conversation with them led to a quest (like it almost always does) but before he would accept it I was told that I’d need to pony up the cash to play it. Since the quest didn’t appear necessary and I had little interest in paying another $10 for a game I had just bought I left the optional DLC by the wayside and never looked back. Since then I’ve had several encounters with games that have had day one or close to it DLC and every time my reaction has been the same.
There is one exception though. Since my tendency is to buy the collector’s edition of games I’m usually treated to a free ride for most early DLC. This hasn’t changed my opinion on it though and in fact my experience with such DLC has reinforced my original stance that of if the game developers have time to develop early DLC then it should probably be included as part of the game. One of my all time favourite games will soon be releasing a sequel however and the outrage from the day one DLC has revealed that my current position might be somewhat ill informed.
The game in question is Mass Effect 3. Long time readers will know that my fanboyism for this game approaches near ridiculous levels: I bought a Xbox360 just to play it (I’ve bought other games for it, but make no mistake that Xbox360 was there for one reason only), I’ve got multiple characters and each time I’ve bought the collector’s edition. Had I done a Game of the Year post for 2010 it is quite likely that Mass Effect 2 would have come out on top. What I didn’t mention at the time was that there was some day one DLC included and whilst I did play it I didn’t feel like it added anything (nor distracted from) to the main core of the game. Indeed it could have been left out entirely and I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.
It has been revealed that Mass Effect 3 will have day one DLC, free to collectors and charged to everyone else. This put the community up in arms with many (myself included) wondering why this wasn’t part of the core game. Bioware came out and defended it fervently and revealed a point that I hadn’t really considered. The certification process for consoles is a long one, filled with all sorts of radical testing like clicking buttons thousands of times to ensure most of the bugs have been stamped out. This takes approximately 3 months and during that time many publishers elect to have the developers work on DLC rather than move them onto other projects (or do nothing at all). Since there’s less certification required to release DLC you then end up with a finished DLC product right on release day, much to the dismay of the fans.
That’s changed my view on day one DLC significantly, but it probably won’t change my purchasing patterns. Indeed I can understand why people are particularly frustrated about this particular DLC, it seems like a particular character (who’s previously appeared in the series) will only be available through it. That’s enough to put some people off it and I wouldn’t be too happy with somewhat plot critical elements being thrown into paid for DLC either. If it wasn’t included in the collector’s edition I certainly wouldn’t be bothered with it and my review later would reflect that.
For this case at least it looks like day one DLC didn’t come at the cost of the game itself but the gaming community is going to have a hard time swallowing that line from every publisher. It might then be worth delaying DLC to some time after the initial release in order to avoid this kind of negative publicity. Still I don’t have the numbers on this and if day one DLC works financially then you can bet on seeing more games with it in the future. I may not support it financially but so long as the core game isn’t affected by it I won’t say anything bad about it, but if said DLC does impact on the game you can rest assured I’ll give them a thorough panning on here.
I can remember my first experience with PC multi player game. I can’t remember exactly what game it was but I do recall running a 5 meter serial cable from my room across into my brother’s and then clicking the connect button frantically in the hopes that we could play together. Alas we never managed to get it working and resigned ourselves to play our game individually. Over the years my multiplayer experience would be mostly limited to bouts on the various Nintendo consoles we purchased over the years with my most fond memories being the countless hours we whiled away on Goldeneye 007.
Online multiplayer was something that eluded me for quite some time. Being stuck out in the sticks of Wamboin my Internet connection lagged behind the times considerably, seeing me stuck on dialup until I switched to a rural wireless provider sometime in 2005. I’d make do by finding servers that were sympathetic to my HPB ways but even then the experience wasn’t particularly stellar. It then follows that I found solace in good single player games much more often than I did with ones that required me to find someone else to play with (with World of Warcraft being the notable exception).
The games industry however has been trending in the opposite direction. It’s increasingly rare to find a game that doesn’t have some token form of multiplayer in it, especially those ones that are part of a long running series. Indeed many recent titles that found their success as single player only titles have since found their sequels with some form of multiplayer attached to them. The trend is somewhat worrying for long time gamers like myself as many of these efforts appear to be token attempts to increase the games longevity. Whilst this usually wouldn’t be a problem it seems that in some cases the single player has suffered because of it and this is why many gamers lament the appearance of multi player in games.
Personally though, I really haven’t seen much of a decline in game quality with the addition of multiplayer to new games. Indeed looking back at two sequels that found their feet in solid single player experience which had multi player added afterwards (Bioshock 2 and Portal 2) shows that it is possible to make a game with a token multiplayer aspect that doesn’t detract from the main game. It’s worth mentioning however that I didn’t bother to play the multiplayer at all in Bioshock 2 nor did I engage in the most recent effort of token multi playerism found in Rage. Had I done so I might have been telling a different story, one I might endeavour to investigate in the future.
All this being said however I did cringe a bit when two of my favourite titles from Bioware, namely Mass Effect and Dragon Age, both recently announced that their upcoming titles would include some form of multiplayer. Now these are two titles that have managed to go two releases without having multiplayer and no one can deny the success that both of them have had. The question then becomes “why now?” as they’d both have enough momentum to be successful just off their existing fan base. It would appear that there’s a perception that some form of multiplayer is now a required part of a game and not developing it could adversely affect the games future. There’s a decent amount of evidence to argue to the contrary however, like Skyrim selling a whopping 7 million copies already (and all their past success, of course).
The proof will be in the pudding as it’s rather unjust to judge a game before it’s released to the public and those games will be a good indicator of just how much a multi player section impacts on the single player experience. Whilst I can’t recall any games that were noticeably worse off because of multi player being tacked on I do understand the community’s concerns about how good, solid single player games could be ruined by focusing on something that, for a lot of people, adds no value to the game. I’ll make a point to give the multiplayer a good work over for these titles when their released in the future, just to see if it was worth the developer’s time of including them in.
So the Electronic Entertainment Expo is on again and this of course means that all the major game developers are showing off their wares in what amounts to a massive marketing campaign to hit as many headlines as they can before the hubub dies down. It’s a wonderful time for people like me who revel in the news of new and exciting games and hardware that said games will be played upon. Whilst its a far cry from what it used to be when it wasn’t invite only it’s still a major talking point in the gaming industry and this year seems to be no exception. Here’s some of the things that have been announced that I really like (apart from the PSP-Go, of course).
Mass Effect 2: The game that left me so weak at the knees that I bought a Xbox 360 just to play it, and I still don’t regret that to this day. What really grabbed me when reading this article was the focus on creating a more cinematic experience for the player. Whilst I detest the term quick time events their addition into the dialogue system sounds like a solid idea and its meant to mimic those kinds of snap decisions people make without thinking about it. Carrying over saved game data is one thing, having it alter the storyline of the next game is something I really hadn’t considered, and I’m interested to see how it plays out. The over-arching storyline that the player creates with their experiences which will span a total of three games is something I adore but I can also see the risks here. If you didn’t invest the time initially to play through the original (which can be a 40 hour ordeal) I’m wondering what you might miss out on, and that could be a sticking point for some people. I’m only worried because that’s what happened to Battlestar Galactica, although they tried to go “episodic” with horrible results and back-pedalled fairly quickly. If they stick to their guns they’ll have a loyal fanbase and fewer new customers.
Assassin’s Creed 2: Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this game when it was first released I felt the replayability of it was extremely limited. Sure I could jump around the cities and find all the flags and so on but since there was no reward in sight for doing it I decided against it. Playing straight through the game however was incredibly rewarding and having the characters develop as you play was something I really enjoyed. From what I can tell of the previews Assassin’s Creed 2 looks more evolutionary than revolutionary with more weapons, new ways to get in and out of trouble and of course new scenery. Hopefully with the bevvy of new weapons they’re unleashing on the player they’ll have to improve the combat system, which was sorely lacking in the original.
Left 4 Dead 2: (Notice the pattern here yet?) The aggressively timed sequel to Valve’s hit Left 4 Dead which like Assassin’s Creed appears to evolve the existing game with new additions, new scenery and attempts to address some of the problems that players complained about with the original. To be honest with the original taking 3 years to develop I can’t help but feel that this sequel (slated for release 1 year after its predecessor) is going to be woefully underdeveloped, delayed or a bit of a slap dash paint job on the original. Sure right now the teaser videos look cool (the obligatory zombie chainsaw finally makes an appearance in this series) but I feel like calling this a sequel is a little rich. Making it something like Left 4 Dead: Episode 2 or similar would’ve suited it perfectly. The way it’s described now seems more like episodic content than a sequel.
This years E3 hasn’t yet thrown anything at me that is completely new and exciting but that’s to be expected after the blockbuster last year that we had. I’m more then happy to settle for the things I’ve mentioned as they’re giving me more of what I like, but I know the critics won’t think along those lines. There is of course so much more that’s going on at E3 than what I’ve detailed here but I’m not going to rehash it all for you, the blogosphere is doing a good job of that already 🙂
If I’m lucky they’ll say something about the release date of Heavy Rain…..
I’m an avid gamer and have been ever since my Dad sat me down at a computer at the tender age of 4 and showed me an old classic, Captain Comic. I spent many hours playing through that game and never getting too far into it, only to have my Dad’s friend show up and beat the game for me. I remember being awe struck as a child watching someone play through it so perfectly, when I had struggled for hours and only got half as far.
Fast forward 20 years and gaming has become a huge multi-billion dollar industry. So many games are released every year that no matter what kind of genre or play-style you fit into you’re bound to find something that you enjoy. Hollywood blockbuster budgets are thrown at impressive game titles and production values have skyrocketed, which has allowed game designers to become analogous to movie producers. Thus Cinematic Gaming was born, bringing the choices of a choose your own adventure book together with the immersion of modern interactive games.
My first real introduction into this blend of movie and game was Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Whilst this is no where near the first foray into this genre it is a great example of what it is capable of. The emphasis is strictly on the characters and their interaction with each other. Every time I sat down to play it I felt drawn into the game and empathised with all of the characters, something which was made even stronger by the fact I could make their decisions for them. The ending left my heart aching, something which I had never experienced with a game before.
After finishing Dreamfall and sharing my experiences with some of my friends I was put onto Fahrenheit by Quantic Dream. This was a much earlier attempt at Cinematic Gaming and whilst the graphics were a tad rough, even for the time of its release, the emphasis again was on the plot and immersion. I quickly got drawn into the interaction between characters, and the use of game mechanics really makes you feel like the character is supposed to. Throw in a dash of naughty sex scenes and you’re onto a winner.
Probably one of the biggest jumps forward in this genre would have to be Mass Effect by Bioware, who are renowned for their games with intricate dialogues and over-arching plot lines. The conversation system implemented in Mass Effect is really second to none. Your responses are displayed just before the other person finishes their part of the conversation, allowing you to choose what you want to say before there’s an awkward pause. Once you’ve figured out which options are where (a “Paragon” response is typically at the top, “Renegade” is at the bottom) you can usually judge how you want to respond to someone before the options even come up. This makes the dialogue very fluid, and doesn’t have the same immersion break like many similar games do when you’re interacting with non-player characters.
So how does the future look for this type of game? Well Quantic Dream is busy working on Heavy Rain which is looking to take the next step in immersion with realistic facial expressions. They put an emphasis on the fact that their characters will show real tears, which is something that is sure to tug on heart strings. Here’s a great trailer:
I’m definitely looking forward to this, and I’ll be sure to give a review of it once I’ve played it through. Don’t expect it to be out quickly though, I like to take my time with things like this 😉